I push down the lid on the plastic condiment cup until I hear the telltale snap that assures me the ranch dressing won’t leak. I then gather carrots, granola bars, cookies, chips, one peanut butter sandwich (spread to the very edges, please) and one roast beef and provolone with just enough mustard to taste a bit but not enough to make the bread soggy.
This is not the exacting daily lunch routine of my elementary school children, but rather for my two high school teens who are taller than I am.
And perfectly capable of making their lunch every day.
So why do I buzz around the kitchen every morning during what I have termed our “hour of chaos” from 6:30am-7:30am?
Because I can.
With one child seven hours away in college, I am keenly aware that this gig of day-to-day mothering has an expiration date. Within the next three years, all of my boys will have flown the nest at least temporarily, returning home for breaks and quick visits if we are lucky. I’m not sure how we landed on the precipice of empty nesting, but it crept up on me just as those more experienced warned it would.
When time was not a menacing shadow threatening me like the Grim Reaper, I took pains to teach my kids how to accomplish the basics of self-care. Every summer from the time they were young, we had an age-appropriate survival skills boot camp. The kids learned how to cook basic meals, clean their bathroom, load and unload the dishwasher… you get the drift.
So, before you start talking about me landing my helicopter or releasing my overbearing ways, let me just say that I rest easy knowing my boys will quasi-adult when the time comes. After all, I have successfully released one into the world and he has the clean laundry to prove it.
In the meantime, however, I am going to be hands-on and help ease the stress that these last years of high school present. I make lunches and breakfast, clear the occasional windshield, cook dinner nearly every night, wash piles and piles of laundry (well actually the washer is my husband’s domain) and pick up scads of clutter that I didn’t leave laying around.
I expect my kids to contribute when they are able and needed but, honestly, I get joy from doing. There is great satisfaction in tasks accomplished not out of necessity but as an extra. I remember the days in that same kitchen when every piece of Tupperware was on the floor and whining was the soundtrack to meal prep. When tying shoes and zipping coats was like scaling Mt. Everest in time commitment and rigor. The toys multiplied while we slept and uttering the word Mommy fortified my children like oxygen.
In those exhausting days, I would’ve sworn that these little people were going to fend for themselves, by God, as soon as they were able. But a funny thing happened on the way to independence, we became a team. Sometimes, I do for them and sometimes they pitch in for me and personally, I’m not keeping score.
I also find that the older they are, the more kids appreciate the work that goes into running a house. We have always been honest about budgets, chores, routine household maintenance and responsibility. Our kids are watching us even as they stare at Snapchat and Fortnight; some of it is sinking in.
And the older I get, I appreciate the work that goes into being a kid in today’s society. If pampering my kids a little bit eases the burden of school, jobs and extracurricular activities, then why not?
I mean, just because they can pack their lunch just fine doesn’t mean it wouldn’t taste just a smidge better when it is packed with love.
Maureen Stiles writes at her blog, Magnificence in the Mundane, where she chronicles the beauty within the chaos of raising three boys and a dog with her husband, given that the dog is the only one that really understands her. You can also follow Maureen on Facebook and Twitter.